Sunday, August 25, 2013

KenAir: Jury convicts airline owner after passenger tries to bring alcohol into dry village

Posted: Saturday, August 24, 2013 12:00 am 
Updated: 12:29 pm, Sunday Aug 25, 2013.

Correction. This article has been changed to reflect the following correction:

Saturday’s article “Jury convicts airline owner after passenger tries to bring alcohol into dry village” gives the wrong name and age of alcohol importation co-defendant Helen Nicholia.

FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks man faces jail time and as much as a $1 million fine after a jury found him and his charter airline criminally liable for beer a passenger was attempting to bring to a dry village last April.

A six-member jury returned a guilty verdict for both Ken Jouppi, 70, and his business, KenAir, for misdemeanor alcohol importation Friday. Jouppi faces jail time for an offense that’s the legal equivalent of a driving under the influence conviction. In addition to the fine and jail time, Jouppi’s small company has lost an airplane because of the case. The company faces a fine of between $200,000 and $1 million because the Alaska Legislature recently increased penalties for corporations convicted of crimes, according to prosecutor Gustaf Olson with the Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals.

Sentencing is scheduled for October.

The misdemeanor trial was an offshoot of a larger bootlegging investigation against KenAir. The trial dealt with the circumstances of April 3, 2012, when prosecutors executed a search warrant on Jouppi’s Cessna 206.

During two days of testimony, the six jurors heard testimony from Alaska State Troopers, Jouppi and Helen Nicholia, 61, a KenAir client who was carrying cans of Budweiser and Bud Light, about 7 gallons in all, to the dry community of Beaver, where alcohol is illegal.

Nicholia previously pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor alcohol charge and was given a three-day sentence.

Prosecutors said Jouppi’s actions amount to willful ignorance of the community of Beaver’s alcohol ban. Some of the beer was in a bag and it should have been obvious to Jouppi that it contained beer, according to the state’s case.

Defense attorneys Nelson Traverso and Robert John asked jurors to question how visible the beer really was. They argued the beer was secured in a box and only visible in photos presented to the jury after the boxes were opened. They asked prosecutors why troopers didn’t save the boxes and bags as evidence to show the jury how the beer was wrapped up.

Asked after the verdict if they plan to appeal, Jouppi’s wife and KenAir co-owner Mary Ames said “We have plans in place to make sure that justice is done,”

“This isn’t any more just about Ken, this is about the liability about any pilot,” she said.

KenAir remains in operation but is doing less than 10 percent of the business because of the loss of the Cessna 206 and business from the Tanana Chiefs Conference that has disappeared since the charges were filed.

Ames accuses troopers of “policing for profit” and investigating KenAir because they wanted to confiscate and use the company’s Cessna. She said she’s heard that troopers have been flying the Cessna.

Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said it’s not true that troopers are flying the Cessna. Troopers did seize Jouppi’s plane because of a court order, but it’s in storage in Anchorage, she said. It will be for the court to decide if Jouppi has an opportunity to get it back.

The misdemeanor charge was an offshoot of a bootlegging investigation that goes back to 2010 that led prosecutors to file a felony bootlegging charge against Jouppi and KenAir in January. The more-serious felony charge was dropped after prosecutors failed to respond to a brief from Traverso that said prosecutors misled a grand jury about what it means to be an accomplice to alcohol importing.

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